Cannabis is always in the news and it seems like we’ve been talking about cannabis law reform forever – to the point where the most interesting thing about cannabis is why the law wasn’t changed years ago.
New Zealand leads the world on so many other social issues but for some reason we are light years behind contemporary nations we like to associate with.
I think a big part of why we are lagging behind is the media-led conversation here constantly repeats itself and seldom moves forward. Claims that are disproved are repeated nonetheless and must be disproved again and again.
For example, we are constantly told more teenagers would use cannabis if we make it legal. This old chestnut is trotted out every time we get serious about law reform, despite study after study showing that cannabis use does not go up when it is made legal.
Extensive research on the places where cannabis is already legal show other claims we regularly hear are simply not true; for example research in the US states of Colorado and Washington show overall road deaths are down, crime is down, suicides have fallen, and teenage use is down. The only thing to have increased is cannabis tax revenues.
There have been some great examples in our mainstream media recently. TVNZ screened a documentary called Why Am I?, based on the ‘Dunedin Study‘ which conducts regular interviews with 1000 people born there in the early 70’s. One episode emphasised the findings relating to cannabis, which included a claimed drop in IQ among teens who had used cannabis.
Other researchers around the world had already shown how this claim didn’t stack up, but if you only saw the documentary you may not know that (or that it was based on only 38 teens who had used heavily and continuously from the ages of 13-15).
In fact, new research based on data from the Dunedin study – not mentioned in the TVNZ documentary – found no major health effects from long term use of cannabis. In many scores the cannabis users ranked better than even non-smokers, possibly pointing to the protective effects of cannabinoids.
The Washington Post said the latest study “marshals up some convincing evidence that marijuana’s toll on physical health may be far less than once feared.” Time said “even after years of heavy use, marijuana doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on the physical health of the body.”
In New Zealand the only coverage seems to be a column by ‘Nanogirl’, Dr Michele Dickinson, in the New Zealand Herald. Contrary to the angle taken in the world press, we get “Study reveals bad news for toking teens“. It should have read “Study reveals good news for toking adults”, because as she said in the column:
“When it came to physical health, the results were surprising, with marijuana consumption having no negative impact on a dozen health factors including lung function, systemic inflammation, BMI, or metabolic health. The only significant adverse impact was on periodontal health with cannabis use being associated with tooth loss. This is very different to results from the tobacco smokers in the same cohort who showed worse lung function, systemic inflammation, and worse metabolic health at age 38.”
This actually points to what kind of law we should have around cannabis.
If the long term effects of heavy lifetime use are only on a par with not flossing (and none of the claims of heart failure, lung cancer, brain damage, violence, craziness or supposed gateway effects are true), then we don’t need anyone to be arrested, we don’t need homes to be seized and families torn apart, we don’t need anyone in prison for pot, we don’t need kids to be kicked out of school, we don’t need the military spraying poison around our countryside, we don’t need $300 million spent on ‘eradication’ annually… all we need are some education campaigns about flossing after toking.
Maybe it could be printed on the pack – because that’s what you get to do when cannabis is made legal.
If it feels like we’ve been here before, we have. Several times. So what will it take to stop dwelling on the same myths and disputes, move the discussion forward, turn words into action, and unite the widespread calls for change into a cohesive and effective political movement that can affect change?
A gathering at the Auckland Town Hall on Monday 27 June aims to start this conversation, from the grass roots up. It’s a big ask, for sure. But there are some high-powered names associated with Community CAN, the new network behind the event. Speakers include:
- Professor Max Abbott: CNZM, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Dean and Professor of Psychology and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, AUT; Past President and Senior Consultant, World Federation for Mental Health
- Helen Kelly: Former President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
- Dr Warren Young: CNZM, Former Deputy President of the NZ Law Commission
- Dr Chris Wilkins: Senior Researcher and Leader of the Illegal Drug Research team, SHORE Whariki Massey University
- Papa Nahi: Kaiwhakahaere, Maori Public Health Leadership, Hapai Te Hauora
The event is described as “is a national vehicle which seeks to have an honest discussion about the growing community concern surrounding cannabis and cannabis laws… With more and more people now using cannabis and countries around the world rapidly shifting away from prohibitive drug policies, the time is now. Community CAN Start The Conversation about the impacts cannabis law has on our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and the wider community.”
Conversation topics will include access to medical cannabis, impacts of criminalisation on communities, and legal regulation supply models and public health outcomes.
In 1984 the Auckland Town Hall held the Great Marijuana Debate, and by all accounts it was packed. Anyone interested in cannabis law reform – whether to get involved, have a say, show their support or just learn more about it – should come along. This could be one of those events that help shape and define a movement. Video will end up on youtube but there is nothing like actually being there. Doors open at 6:30 for a 7pm start.
COMMUNITY CAN – START THE CONVERSATION AUCKLAND TOWN HALL ASSEMBLY
Monday 27th June 2016, 7.00pm – 9.00pm, Auckland Town Hall